Cardinal Vincent Nichols has praised the ministry and service of the Apostolic Nuncio at a special Mass of Thanksgiving in Westminster Cathedral for His Excellency Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti.
Pope Francis has appointed the former Nuncio to Great Britain Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches.
In these days, and as we approach the Feast of Christmas, we enter into one of the great dramas of the life of faith. By this I mean the drama of faithful obedience to the One who alone is all truth.
This evening’s readings highlight this obedience: the unnamed wife of Zorah was obedient to the message of God. So too was Elizabeth, although her husband, Zechariah, by his hesitation, dramatically experienced the consequences of disobedience before God.
It was by her unequivocal obedience that Mary, who stands at the centre of the history of salvation, unlocked the plan of God for our salvation: ‘Let it be done to me according to thy word’ (Lk. 1:38).
Such radical obedience, which we celebrate this evening, stands in contrast to powerful aspects of our culture. Today we hear so much about being ‘true to one’s own self’, the importance of living out one’s ‘own truth’, in the belief that personal fulfilment is to be found by doing so. These social assertions are made, of course, without any reference to a higher design or purpose to human living. All is summed up in the limited horizons of this life and measured by passing fashions of the day. In this way, a person’s own view, or ‘truth’, becomes the ultimate criterion of what is to be done.
Introducing a trusting faith in God into this picture changes everything. Now the horizon of obedience is far wider, reaching into the realm of eternity and the destiny for which we are given life. The question now becomes not: ‘In this decision am I being true to myself’; but ‘In this decision am I being true to the will of God, as best I can discover it’; or ‘Will the consequences of this decision lead me closer to God, or will they actually lead me away?’
The demands of faithful obedience, then, remain at the heart of our journey of salvation. Discernment of the heart, openness to God in the depth of prayer, living within the community of faith: this is the pathway of true obedience.
This evening we witness an act of such obedience. It is obedience which takes our Apostolic Nuncio away from these shores. You, dear Archbishop, have received a summons. Yet again, your life is turned upside down, yet again you will relocate, as has happened so often in your life of service. Now you seek out new accommodation, embrace new tasks, fashion new relationships, slowly become accustomed to a new and very different environment. This is all because, in your heart, there is a loving obedience to the will of God, expressed not through angels, but through the authority given by our Blessed Lord to his Church and, in a special way, to the Apostle Peter and his successors. This new mandate you embrace out of love of the Lord and of His Church.
This evening, then, we thank you for this example of loving obedience. You remind all of us, members of this same Body of Christ, that it is in the context of the Church that we come to the real tests of our faithful obedience. Our lives are shaped by promises made before the Lord, whether in marriage, religious vows, promises of Ordination, or more personal undertakings, given out of love for family and friendships. And there will be times when remaining faithful is costly. But we know that such faithfulness, shown in decisions we take, is an expression of our real and deepest inner truth for, under God’s guidance, we are being fashioned for salvation.
May such obedience, which you model for us, be found in the hearts of us all and remain a strong characteristic of the faith in these lands.
But now you leave us to take up the role of Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches. This is a position for which you are well prepared and in which, we know, you will serve Pope Francis with great closeness and affection. Your previous experience in that Dicastery will serve you well, as will your experience in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Ukraine. You bring a unique and rich experience to the relationship of the Holy See with Eastern Churches. Our loss is certainly Rome’s gain.
This glimpse of the itinerary of your life reminds us to keep very much in mind the dreadful suffering of the people of Ukraine, especially at this time of the birth of Christ. The systematic destruction of the infrastructures which support the life of all its people is but one indication of the ruthlessness of those who seek to conquer that nation and to spread hardship and division as widely as possible.
We know, too, that these actions have direct impact on our economy, as well as in other countries, deepening the crisis in food and energy supplies. As always it is the poor who suffer, and it is the poor whom we keep in the forefront of our prayer and practical compassion at this time.
This evening we also thank you for your ministry among us. It has been comparatively brief, yet fruitful even in the most difficult of circumstances. We thank you for coming to such a perceptive appreciation of our life in these countries and for the encouragement you have given us all, in difficult and in good times alike.
Your Excellency, do understand that as you leave us you go with our fullest thanks and assurance of constant support and prayers.
Our readings this evening speak of the fruitfulness of faithful obedience. Against all the odds and in the most unpromising of circumstances, God’s response to such obedience is the gift of new life, the birth of Samson and the birth of John the Baptist. This all prefigures the birth of Jesus, the celebration of which we await with patience and growing enthusiasm. Our preparations are moving on apace, with a quiet joy and deep thankfulness. Soon this Cathedral will be filled with people celebrating Christmas in music, poetry and song and, of course, the Sacrifice of the Mass, scenes repeated in every church up and down our countries. May the peace of Christ find its way into all hearts, especially those who suffer most, so that we may welcome his coming and embrace afresh the promises he holds out for us. His promises are beautifully expressed in this Advent prayer:
‘O God, our Creator and Redeemer,
Look with favour on our prayers,
That your Only Begotten Son,
Having taken to himself our humanity
May be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.’
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster